Featured image courtesy of Neville Williams/Aston Villa FC via Getty Images
Ghastly, disgusting, unacceptable - these are the right words to describe recent incidents of appalling behaviour by minorities of fans at our football grounds. Everton have confirmed that a supporter was arrested after Aston Villa's Matty Cash and Lucas Digne were hit by bottles and a missile. I can fully understand the anger brewing at Goodison Park, not just this season but over multiple seasons. A former Liverpool manager in Rafa Benitez was never going to be accepted and the way Farhad Moshiri and Bill Kenwright are treating the club has created disquiet for quite some time. But as any decent Everton fan will know there was no excuse for that behaviour at the weekend and no law-abiding Evertontonian should be tarnished with the same brush.
Everton fans law-abiding or not were always going to be up for this encounter, the Liverpool connection apparent despite the Reds nowhere to be seen. Benitez gone, Steven Gerrard in the opposition dugout and Philippe Coutinho in the starting XI - all the ingredients were there for a fiery contest. The Toffees fully behind Duncan Ferguson and a chance to aim hostility towards a pantomime villain in Lucas Digne, who left Merseyside just a week ago, you cannot blame Evertonian's for feeling pumped up. Ironic that it was Digne's corner for Emi Buendia that led to Villa's winning goal, hence the ugly scenes afterwards.
Not long ago we saw Manchester City's Rodri celebrate right in the face of Arsenal fans, at Goodison we saw the same, Villa huddled together right in the corner of the ground, fans antagonised. Players have every right to celebrate how they want, but I am asking myself why there's a need to celebrate so close to opposing fans? Jump up, celebrate in a huddle, but do it further away from the corner flag. Instead, what celebrating close to fans does, is a creation of more anger, some might be laid back and relaxed, but there's always one, two, a collective group of fans who will overstep the mark.
Throwing bottles and a missile - who in the their right mind would think to bring a missile into the ground? It's an educational problem and a mentality that is beyond belief. Throwing such an object at a player warrants obvious punishment, a stadium ban no question but for how long? Three years is usually the norm, where you'd think the perpetrator would learn lessons, but most importantly - how on earth did a missile get inside the ground in the first place? Poor security, poor match management by those in charge, crowd and player safety needs to be taken into account better.
This wasn't the only incident we've seen reported over the weekend. Two men were arrested after objects were thrown at Chelsea's Antonio Rüdiger from the away end at Stamford Bridge. Tottenham have said they will work with Chelsea to review the footage and take appropriate action, the correct action to take but is this a slight overreaction? Is my point to discuss how players celebrate goals petty? Isolated incidents when the majority of fans wouldn't even consider doing such a thing, it is clear that only a moron would consider throwing a missile, a bottle, a flare or a coin at a player but like Thomas Tuchel, I don't think incidents like this should be dismissed so quickly. Remember when Rio Ferdinand was struck by a coin or when Jack Grealish was punched from behind?
Speaking to Sky Sports, Tuchel said: "I'm not worried, but you are right. I sent the message to our fans - support us, we love to [have] them close to the pitch, we love a brilliant atmosphere [and] that they are not behind fences or nets.
"From there everybody needs to show respect. But in general I'm not concerned. Right now I enjoy the atmosphere.
"If this is a new trend we need to act together to make sure that it stops as soon as possible, to protect the fantastic environment and unique atmosphere of England."
A new trend? Possibly. Throwing objects isn't new, but Tuchel's point about fences around the ground should be taken seriously. Only recently have we seen fresh statistics from the UK's Football Policing Unit that shows arrests at football matches across the top five English leagues are at their highest levels in years, with fan disorder "getting worse". 802 football related arrests so far this season - an increase in 47% from 547 arrests in 2019-20 - the highest number of arrests since the UKFPU started collating data in 2015-16. What really concerns me is this statistic of 210 incidents involving young supporters under the age of 25, up from 154 in 19-20. The five year average of incidents involving under 25 was 168. Could this actually be the new trend? A lad culture where not everyone young goes to start disorder but when disorder starts they look to get involved.
If you want to dismiss all this like Rod Liddle for The Times then go ahead, but on the back of Baroness Casey's recent report into the violence we saw from the Euro 2020 Final, this is serious and should not be taken lightly. Her report concluded that "ticketless, drunken and drugged-up thugs" could have caused death as they stormed Wembley. Ticketless fans haven't been a problem for domestic football but the re-introduction of safe-standing and a pilot scheme to allow fans to drink within sight of the pitch - it's hard to see how this can continue.
Not for a second am I making the point that every UK football fan is as bad compared to what we see in other European countries - the racist and homophobic behaviour from sections of Hungarian supporters is just one example. Yes some supporters in the UK hold racist and homophobic views, that needs root and branch surgery to eradicate, yet we are nowhere near Hunagarian levels of hostile behaviour. Anti-immigration rhetoric whipped up by Viktor Orbán's government flows into the football ground, that doesn't happen in the UK thankfully.
My point remains that post-Euro's and seeing incidents at games up and down the football pyramid continuing further, this in my opinion isn't an over-reaction. Match management and stewarding is another talking point but overall the madness of introducing a new pilot on alcohol definately needs a re-think. From March 2020 up until now we went without in-person football at grounds due to COVID-19. Public health taken rightly into account, empty stadiums were necessary but they are of course a sight we never want to see again. It's great to see fans back this season, but there are always going to be minorities of idiots who let the side down.
Nobody can control the behaviour of every individual every weekend but those with the power should and must re-think some proposals and fix management on match-days. Lessons need to be learned from Euro 2020, players might need to consider their actions on the pitch and tackling anti-social behaviour further before this becomes a sad normality week after week needs to be done sooner rather than later.